At No. 6, Notre Dame’s path to the Playoff is clear, but still shy of likely
There is still a Playoff for Notre Dame to wonder about. Of all the absurdity of the last 24 hours, that remains the most unfathomable part of Brian Kelly’s abrupt departure for LSU, that he did so while the Irish could still make the College Football Playoff this year, a third time in four seasons. Their title chances may be slim, but they are not dead, and a coach abandoning a chance at a championship, no matter how unlikely, is unprecedented in this sport, if not all sports.
Notre Dame (11-1) remains No. 6 in the rankings, with peak drama set to unfold this weekend in a handful of conference championship games. There are a few scenarios to ponder, depending on your certainty on the selection committee’s faithfulness to No. 3 Alabama.
If you believe, as most do, that a loss in the SEC championship game to No. 1 Georgia would knock the Tide out of the Playoff picture, then a Bulldogs victory (4 ET; CBS) is the first thing for the Irish to cheer for.
After that, one of three upsets needs to occur ...
— Either No. 9 Baylor needs to beat No. 5 Oklahoma State (12 ET; ABC) or ...— No. 21 Houston needs to upset No. 4 Cincinnati in the AAC title game (4 ET; ABC) or ...— No. 13 Iowa needs to beat No. 2 Michigan in the Big Ten title game (8 ET; FOX).
If, however, you believe as this rambler has long maintained, that an 11-2 Alabama would still get into the Playoff before 11-1 Notre Dame does, based on the quality of the Tide’s wins compared to only one notable Irish victory, against now-unranked Wisconsin, then anything short of an absolute Bulldog beatdown may not be enough to remove that hurdle. For that matter, it should be noted, it is within the selection committee’s purview to knock a team for the absence of a coach that “will likely affect its postseason performance.”
“The committee was obviously aware of all the coaching changes while were going through the rankings,” College Football Playoff committee chairman Gary Barta said during ESPN‘s rankings reveal. “This week, it didn’t apply because the games had occurred and we evaluated based on those games.
“Once the championship games wrap up, our protocol does include the ability for the committee to consider a player or a coach not being available and should that have an effect on the outcome of a game. That can be considered.”
To avoid the effects of that potential downgrade, the Irish would need two of those above upsets to become realities. That would also be the case if Alabama uncomplicates these hypotheticals by beating Georgia.
Now let’s put some of that into greater context. Gambling odds are not certainties, but they do provide a reasonable threshold of expectation. Per PointsBet’s odds as of Tuesday evening …
Baylor is a 5.5-point underdog to Oklahoma State. The money line odds suggest the Bears should win the game 36.4 percent of the time.
Houston is a 10.5-point underdog to Cincinnati. The money line odds argue the Cougars should win this game 23.8 percent of the time.
Georgia is a 6.5-point favorite against Alabama, expected to win this matchup about 65.5 percent of the time.
And Iowa is a 10.5-point underdog vs. Michigan, an expected victor 23.3 percent of the time.
In our first scenario, where a loss knocks the Tide behind Notre Dame no matter how close it may be, then one upset is outright probable and the Irish should be in the Playoff. Statistically speaking, at least one such upset should occur 62.8 percent of the time. In the second scenario, demanding two upsets, Notre Dame would be the Playoff beneficiary only 8.7 percent of the time.
If the Irish do not back into the Playoff, then they will head to either the Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1) or the Peach Bowl (Dec. 30). They would face someone like Michigan State or Mississippi.